Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"My Name is Asher Lev" - book review

This book was recommended from a few places so I finally got around to diving in.  Chaim Potok is a wonderful storyteller - I previously read "The Chosen" (see review here).  This story is of an art prodigy growing up with an irresistible urge to create within an Orthodox Jewish household.  I'm amazed at how much I was hooked into a story with basically no action.  No car chases.  No ninjas attacking dragons.  None.  If I recall correctly, knife is used to sharpen an artist pencil.

The father tries but just cannot understand art and his son wanting to create art - "this is something I cannot reconcile."  The son, Asher, wants to respect his father but cannot resist drawing.  The mother is torn, as any mother would be, by loving her husband and loving her son and seeking to keep them both.  Toss in a Rebbe, the religious leader, who directs the father to continue vital and risky work in Europe  following the death of Stalin.  The Rebbe also directs Asher to study art and keep doing it.

That's the premise and basically the whole story.  Potok lets you look into lives of characters and once again I found them not only believable, but compelling.  You care and understand for each of the main players.

The book starts with Asher at a young age and I chuckled frequently at how well Potok captured the mind and restlessness of that age.  It progresses through the years and you get to see Asher mature.  I was pulling for Asher.

Asher's mom makes goes through a mourning period following family tragedy.  I wanted her to get better.  She does.  She makes tough choices and sacrifices for her family.  I couldn't help but care about her and see her as honorable.

Asher's father is devoted to the the faith and doing work for the Rebbe.  He works very hard in his duties for the Rebbe and has put himself at huge risk at times.  He struggles to understand his son, he tries but it isn't easy.

Asher himself is torn by this irrepressible gift and serving his faith and honoring his father. 

All of the characters popped out of the book to give you a sense that they are real.

My $0.02 on the conclusion.  I'll try to convey my thoughts without giving away too much.

I was disappointed with the ending.  Not that it was poorly written, or fell out of the story.  I was just pulling for Asher to make some different choices.  Did he really have to paint that and let it be displayed?  Is it required that all art causes some level of strife?  Is it wrong for a great artist to make great pretty art?  I don't that is necessarily being a "whore" as Jacob Kahn, the mentoring artist, had warned.

I enjoy and believe the call to be artists.  Art = created beauty.  I see that artistic spirit flowing through beautiful blueprints, well setup spreadsheets, furniture, good meals, music, stories, etc..  I don't think the artistic call would make a chef sneak meat into a vegetarian's meal.  There are lines that do not need to be crossed for the sake of the "art". 

Do all artists sacrifice for the sake of the art?  Is it really a choice between offending your audience (or a crucial part) and selling yourself? 

There is a deep underlying reality that "My Name is Asher Lev" told that I never considered before.   The artist pours his view and spirit into a work, and then sells it.  An artist sells something with huge personal meaning which ends up being a simple conversation piece completely removed of the story behind the vision behind the art.

There is a mattress store in town that is covered with art from the owner.  He readily talks about his art, and art in general.  He said doesn't sell them.  I wondered why not but now I have a glimmer of understanding.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Progressive Revolution

"NOW here comes in the whole collapse and huge blunder of our age. We have mixed up two different things, two opposite things. Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to suit the vision. Progress does mean (just now) that we are always changing the vision. It should mean that we are slow but sure in bringing justice and mercy among men: it does mean that we are very swift in doubting the desirability of justice and mercy: a wild page from any Prussian sophist makes men doubt it. Progress should mean that we are always walking towards the New Jerusalem. It does mean that the New Jerusalem is always walking away from us. We are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is easier." ~GKC: 'Orthodoxy,' VII, The Eternal Revolution.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

This blog will just dragon, and on..

Did you ever think that dragons might not be dead?  They're just sleeping or waiting.

Their lay with a charring snore waiting for their revenge on St. George for killing their kin.  Or any saint, but none are to be found.  There is no traceable family.  That stalwart lineage isn't around.  The dragon lays sleeping, long enough for a mountain to drift ontop of it slower than a glacier.

St. George, a decorated soldier, was arrested and offered to be set free with huge rewards if he would give a sacrifice, a small tithe, to the Roman gods.  He held the faith and died for it.  They resuscitated him three times during a tortuous death.

The dragon need not awaken.  We're terrified to talk to our neighbor about our faith - "it's a personal choice"; "I don't want to offend anyone" and "to each his own".

We won't charge in to fight the beast.  We've become lazy in facing hard issues.  It's easier to have a soft head than a strong back.

We don't need to hear terrible scales rattling in the dark; we're terrified to let the Bible confront our comfort.  It's easier to leave it sitting on the shelf.  Reading it is uncomfortable.  Not that we don't understand it, we just don't want to have to.

We won't remember all the brave ones; the communion of saints.  We've yielded the adoption certificate into God's family.  We'd rather wear labels of jock, nerd, bookworm, runner, conservative, liberal, republican, or democrat.  Then I don't have to admit any common grace, or any common-ness at all when we disagree.  It's easier to fight one of "them" than one of our brothers or sisters.

The dragon doesn't need to rear its head to snarl and burp flames at us.  We can burn each other well enough.

Dragons may be real, and I think they'd be beaten, in time.  It's more shameful that our faith wouldn't even wake them up, let alone defeat them.

"Fairy tales do not give a child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon." -GKC Tremendous Trifles
St. George and the Dragon - By Justin Gerard
check out more of his art here

Friday, December 2, 2011

Andrew Osenga - out of this world

wow a double post day

Leonard the Lonely Astronaut

Sometime back Becky & I supported a Kickstarter project for Andy Osenga's - Leonard the Lonely Astronaut.

While that is a true statement I should explain a few things.  I am rabid about some of the music I like, specifically Andrew Peterson.  I mentioned at the dinner table that I liked a song that was on the kitchen radio and my 7 y/o asked me if it was Andrew Peterson.  I didn't realize I was that obvious.

Well, Andrew Osenga is another Square Peg guy and Rabbitroom artist who was developing an album and had a Kickstarter campaign.  The concept (from Kickstarter):
My next solo record is going to tell the story of a man named Leonard Belle. He lives 300 years from now and loses his wife in a sudden accident while their divorce is being finalized. In his rage and grief he takes a gig driving a long-distance space freighter for a year. (Due to relativity, by the time he returns to Earth everyone he knows will be old or dead.) He decides to bring along some antique instruments and recording equipment (just like the stuff I have!) and will make a record.
Now THAT is an ambitious concept.  Plus he built a spaceship in his garage to set the mood and played in a spacesuit to get into character (artists - go fig).

So we supported (more true to say Becky supported my supporting) via Kickstarter.  I was skeptical if this would work, but we joined in.  Two days ago he pre-released three acoustic tracks.  I am amazed and glad we supported the project.

Unlike anything I've heard in quite some time, it captures emotion.  I think some of my favorite songs are my favorite because they excel at conveying emotion.  They transmit the heart feelings by telling a story in 3-4 minutes.  Whether it's joy, anger, loneliness, fear or comfort.

These 3 songs remind me very much of listening to Pink Floyd concept albums, The Wall or even The Final Cut.  The beauty of a concept album is that the song can be part of the grand story instead of trying to stand alone. 

The Leonard concept is out there and risky in if it is too remote to connect to the listener.  It didn't take long listening to hear how Leonard is at the very ends emotionally.  His feeling of impending loneliness got trumped by actually being alone.  So he goes a step further and sits in a cave and seals the door.  I haven't heard the whole album, but I'm guessing it isn't all about seeing rainbows and chirping birds

My hope is that in the production/engineering the emotional vocal strain isn't lost.  I think I'm hooked because they express the heartache so well.  I'd like to hear the rest of the album in a similar stripped down acoustic format.  But if the production goes further in telling the story, I'll be having this on repeat for a long time.

If you are interested, if you pre-order the album you can download the 3 tracks.

[Editor's note: one of the songs can be heard at the Rabbitroom -dan]

..the drift from the hearth and the family.

“THE old order has been reversed. The people, instead of surveying the world from their doorsteps, survey their mortgaged doorsteps through a vague and hazy mental screen compounded by international misunderstanding and national mistrust…. The disintegration of rational society started in the drift from the hearth and the family; the solution must be a drift back.” ~GKC: ‘G.K.’s Weekly,’ 30 March 1933.

From the GK Chesterton page on Facebook today.  It struck me as this also came up in the morning devotional with Becky.  Fight for the family.  Viva la resistance.

It is overwhelming to see the "state of the world".  You feel powerless to change any of it.  Although I'm pretty sure every age has said - "kids these days", "in my day we .............., not like today".  And (as my wife pointed out) every generation has its issues.

"Nostalgia ain't what it used to be"

I think the key thing is the "drift back" to the hearth and the family.  Be the force moving back.  Not just standing where you are but steadily moving back to where we should be.  Don't worry about fighting every battle, certainly support your friends and those who are fighting their battles, and also focus on your own.  Working through the PC-USA issues is a current battlefront for me and our church.  I appreciate friend's support, but I do not expect them to become members of our church if they aren't already.  They have their own battles also.  Support them so that they do not fall without being absent to your own home (there's my struggle).

Not immediately obvious, this trend away from family and hearth is also making us more isolated.  That we can do all things within our own house is a lie.  We have an exchange of date night & babysitting with some friends.  I like that.  I enjoy the date night, I enjoy being able to let them get a night away and keep the strength in their marriage.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Itch'n for a Kitchen

We survived a kitchen remodel.

The selection process and debate.  Cabinet arrangement, wood type, color/stain, hardware, counter, flooring, dishwasher, and wall paint.  Done.

Living with a pseudo-kitchenette in our dining room.  Becky did an awesome job with family meals with not much in the toolbox.  And doing dishes in a tiny bathroom sink.  She rocks.

Here's the kitchen from our move-in up to pics from early this week (plus a few cute kids here and there).

("Little by Little" by Eric Peters)

Friday, November 11, 2011

P S Ewww

The Penn State scandal is bothersome.  Not just like a flat tire delaying a trip, but soul shaking at the ugliness.  The allegations are disgusting beyond words.  A monster is being drug out into the light.  It also bothers me for many other reasons beyond the horrific monster.  Mostly the loss of knowing the right thing to do.  Whether you want to say the "right" comes from basic decency, general human good, a Biblical view, or being religious - this is something that says these crimes are evil.

There are some atrocious crimes that have been committed.  Legally they are currently alleged. the ugliness and volume of the charges is sickening; I'd like to push Sandusky off of a ledge.

1.  JoePa
I think JoePa should have been fired.  It was a complete lack of the honor he worked so hard to build upon.  I have argued with 2 PSU alumni over this.  For me it boils down to one simple thing - could you be friends with someone who did what Sandusky did?  Even at allegations, and an underling reporting such things I'd call the cops.  I'd call the cops on my brother over such allegations.  The things need investigated and they'll sort out innocent/guilty.

JoePa picked PSU over right.  He turned a blind eye.  I couldn't look someone in the face with such an ugly cloud looming - it would need to be resolved.

Look at JoePa's "retirement" statement prior to being fired - he closed with saying he will "live the rest of his life doing what's good for the University".  He is still seeing PSU or its honor as the highest aim.

He's the head of the program and easy to pick on.  It is also easy to dump all the anger over the crimes onto him.  He didn't commit them.  He isn't that monster.  He isn't a monster.  He just allowed a monster to live in the dark and refused to shine the light.

2. The Church of Penn State
I have seen the religious ferver that drives many of the fans.  I've seen it in alumni too.  Not just PSU but also Pitt and any strong sports school.  The zealots are especially crushed by this scandal because they are so invested.

If you lose sight of a higher good than living for the University (or its honor) nothing is permitted to interrupt that.  Not a pesky scandal - "we have football to play".  The students (I know, not all) were rioting of coach being fired and risking the game on Saturday.  "We're ranked, we're a contender, we can't be bothered by this".  Yeah they're students with too much time and would riot over pizza not being available in the cafeteria.  They're choosing mob "fun" or football over standing for what is right.  I was glad to see the candlelight vigil on Friday night.  That's how it should have been on day 1.

Up the chain from janitor to the u.president people chose the University over what is right.

3. The Game
Actually I'm glad the game is being played, there is a blue out, Bradley is the coach.  I think it will be part of the healing process.  Sports can play such a vital part in healing; they can also provide a platform for huge statements of humanity and decency.

The risk of the game and starting the healing process; the wound isn't clean.  There are more allegations floating.  There is likely more ugliness to follow, more reasons to lose your lunch.

I hope healing does happen.  Get all the dirt out first.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Judging books

We recently did the annual begging for candy.  The three kids played vagabonds in the search for loading up their goody bag.  This year I was escorting a "sleepy girl" (pajamas), a knight, and Scooby Doo.

I enjoy Halloween for a few reasons:
1. Candy tastes good, it's like...candy.
2. The kids and community enjoy it.
3.  I can wear the Mr. Incredible muscle suit.

For the previous two years our family went as The Incredibles.  It was awesome!  I knew it was a limited time gig as a family theme, but I can still wear my costume.  This year I was the lone Incredible.

There is something extremely funny and fun about putting on the muscle suit.  It causes reactions.  (duh, it's supposed to).  Some comments are fun, some kind of cutting, some people stare, some people laugh at the costume, and some laugh at me.

I remember having a moment of annoyance at a comment.  Then I had an epiphany - I asked for it?

I didn't literally say "hey, pick on me" but I did dress up as a freak for other people to see.

I am struck by the irony of the "freaks" (in looks) that want to just be treated "like everyone else".  They have chosen to stand out via strange piercings (lip, eyebrow, nose, ear expansions), tattoos, strange hair, or costumes (deliberate and otherwise).  Yet do not want to be judged just because they stand out.

I guess you can't help judging books by the cover.  Fair enough. I just need to not assume every book is only a cover.  There's a story inside each one.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review - Slugs & Bugs Under Where?

We were Kickstarter sponsors for the latest Slugs & Bugs project.

The original Slugs & Bugs arrived as a gift from some close friends.  I'd been an Andrew Peterson fan for a long time but Slugs & Bugs slipped by me.  Essentially, it is a collection of songs that Randall Goodgame and Andrew Peterson (both superb songwriters) had written for their kids; plus a few.  At first listen I laughed.  Not just a giggle but belly laughed at some if these songs.  And then I wept like a wee child.  "Beautiful Girl" made me feel like a pinata.  It hit me, hard & often until I broke.

The latest edition nearly gave me the same treatment.

I laughed greatly (The Wagon Song).  I was more prepared for the pinata treatment.  Plus, I'm a more experienced father (more kids and more mature, I think) so I've developed a tougher shell.

Slugs & Bugs has grown in the songwriting.  The Mexican Rhapsody is a great display of musicianship.  Songs like "I Want To Help" just strike such a common chord for adult and child.  I can simply say "Cause I..." and my 3 y/o comes running and singing I want to help.

Slugs & Bugs Under Where?  is a great album.  These are songs that keep the kids giggling, listening and laughing.  And yet my brain is not melting.  I am giggling also.  I am listening and laughing.

Not all the songs are a laugh fest. 
"I'm Adopted" touches on the wonder of belonging to a family and that everyone of us is adopted into God's family. 
"Tell it to Jesus" - there is no feelings that he can't handle. 
"God Made You Special" - this song is difficult to put words to.  It is beautiful lyrically and musically.  This is the song I want my kids to sing and remember.  "you reveal the master's touch".  I hope and pray that the simple message gets from their ears to their hearts.

These are great songs that keep the kids hanging around the kitchen CD player just to hear more.  Check it out if you haven't already (available here also the song Mexican Rhapsody).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Eric Peters - for the record...

It's weird to call them albums when they are digital or CD's and very different from the vinyl albums.  Any-who Eric Peters is Kickstarter fundraising for his album Birds of Relocation.

I'm excited for this.  Eric writes from the head and the heart and pours them into his work.  I first became familiar with his work with "Chrome".  Awesome and kind of dark.  That got me hooked and I've backfilled in the rest of his recorded material.

Eric is wrapping up a house concert tour sponsored by Under the Radar.  As a stop in the swing through Grove City he played at our church for the second time. 
From him playing at our church twice I've been able to hear a few that will be on the new album.  Eric still amazes me that he can weave such heavy topics into such light tunes.  Not light in a way the music isn't developed, it just doesn't feel bogged down.  Who knew a song about being a daydreamer and letting your spouse down can be so catchy.  Yippee! 

This is Eric from his recent trip through Grove City "
"Don't Hold Your Breath" will be on Birds of Relocation (official video here).  This has grown to be one of my favorite songs.  The reality of seeing the hope for situations comes from beyond yourself.  I'm anxious to hear more stories poured out.

So check out the project and support if you can.  It's not a bad way to pre-order also.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: "In This Hour" by Jill Phillips

The street release of "In This Hour" is November 8th. Becky & I were kickstarter supporters and received an advanced download.
The Rabbitroom covered this today, plus you can listen to a great song off of the album.
Jill's music has had a ninja approach into my playlist. I am a big Andy Gullahorn fan and they are a hubby/wife combo. We got their "Christmas" album despite ignoring my suggestion for calling it "Gullahorn of Plenty" and it has great music (I mentioned it here).
I few years ago I managed to get her hymn album "Kingdom Come" out of a clearance rack (score!!). Jill has a wonderful voice. I've heard "haunting" used to describe some sounds and it fits here. Not in a creepy or scary way. Just that her voice stays with you and makes your mind think of other places.
"In This Hour" is full of songs great songs. I've had it on background at work and the deep lyrics are still sinking in. I think Jill has taken a step to be more vulnerable. These songs give the listener some inside glimpse into her life; into her heart.
I won't do a song by song breakdown. There are a few that jump out to me.
"Next Big Thing" (which is on-play at the rabbitroom link above). A catchy tune about tunes not being catchy enough to make it "big".
I've seen the rise and fall of shooting stars a thousand times
I've seen them burning out re-entering the atmosphere
So if it's a choice between that glory and the mundane life
I think that I'd prefer what you and I are sharing here
"If You Were Here" - This one has lingered with me. It has such vulnerability. Written with Randall Goodgame about the loss of her father, Jill reflects on how things would be different if he were around. She sang this at Hutchmoot. It hit me then and it still does. It captures so much of how much our lives are woven together and that's a good thing.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Greatly Horrible Story

So my mind was slightly put at ease by thinking of F.O'Connor stories as "horror stories" rather than "normal" tale telling.  I'm half a book in so I am speaking from a naive point of view.

Jonathan Rogers called me out on this; horror story not being naive.  How is my approach different?

For me one of the differences is removal.  I keep up my mental/emotional guards for horror stories.  The original "Friday The 13th" had suspense and an element of mystery.  After a few of these they were a joke of themselves and moved more into a shock/action/comedy realm.  The first one had you mildly interested in the folks.  There was also tension of "who is doing this and why?"  That was out the door after the first.
I find a difference between horror stories (unsettle you) rather than shock stories which merely disgust you by affronting your normal sense of taste, decency, or morality.  I'm secure enough to withstand shock stories or just turn them off for the insults that they are.

Horror stories lure me into the story.  If my guards are not up then I get unsettled.  I know this defeats the point of the horror story.  They are aiming to make me think about them or feel something for some time afterwards.  I can only enjoy them once I try to not get sucked in.

My biggest (and most effective) disconnect is I won't identify with any of the characters. I don't fall into seeing the story from their eyes, or imagining what I would do.  Horror stories burn me when I've connected to someone and they end up being the bad guy.  I simply don't need the reminder of my brokenness.  Not being pollyanna about life.  I am aware of my need for grace and the grace that has been given.

I thought F.O'Connor was an excellent story teller for creating such believable situations and people.  At various points through the stories I identified with the ignorance of the character; or the desire to make someone pay for some slight that they imparted on me.  My results have never been so tragic as these stories have gone. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

OoooO'Connor - Where the Dark Goes Sweeping Across the Page

I'm partway through "Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O'Connor.  It is a collection of 9 of her short stories.  She gets recommended for reading amongst some portions of Christian literature and is maligned by many who start reading and quickly discard the books.

From wiki:
Mary Flannery O'Connor
(March 25, 1925 – August 3, 1964) was an American novelist, short-story writer and essayist. An important voice in American literature, O'Connor wrote two novels and 32 short stories, as well as a number of reviews and commentaries. She was a Southern writer who often wrote in a Southern Gothic style and relied heavily on regional settings and grotesque characters. O'Connor's writing also reflected her own Roman Catholic faith, and frequently examined questions of morality and ethics

This is my first stab into FO and might be last.  The stories unsettled me.  My initial thinking was that it reminded me of seeing a dog hobbling along with a cast on its leg.  I also thought of a dilapidated building torn down and left in a broken heap; the rubble never moved and nothing built there.

She is certainly an excellent writer giving voice to characters and a great grasp of understanding people and places.  The characters and story was just dark.  Terribly dark.  For the few I've been through I wanted one more chapter for the nice ending.  It wasn't there.

Last night I had a great epiphany which let me deal with the stories better.  These aren't regular stories, these are horror stories.  They are meant to unsettle.  They expose something that is dark, evil, or sinful.  It is unsettling due to the frame it's put in.  Something (person or aspect) should be good and isn't.  Or it is virtue that is twisted and displayed (often blindly) for an evil.  Having pity on someone isn't necessarily bad; giving pity to that poor little child because he's black IS.

Without a doubt the world is fallen and sin, pain and brokenness is all around.  Effective stories can appeal directly to a higher good, a deeper truth.  They can also examine the rubble all around us and by the vacuum of good, leave you longing for the sacred.  It works, it's just painful.

I'll finish the rest of these stories, probably at a slow pace.  I can only endure so much.  Your worst day is only the "worst" because the days after it were better.  It may also have been a marker for a large change, or a hammer blow in the forging process of life.

"Sorrow and pessimism are indeed, in a sense, opposite things, since sorrow is founded on the value of something and pessimism upon the value of nothing.  And in practice we find that those poets or political leaders who come from the people, and whose experiences have really been searching and cruel, are the most sanguine people in the world.  These men out of the old agony are always optimists; they are sometimes offensive optimists." -GK Chesterton

Friday, September 30, 2011

Seriously Now - Hutchmoot 2011

I've toyed with a few posts about this year's Hutchmoot.  It is time for me to put in more than 20 minutes and get some real thoughts processed.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hutchmoot in a Few Poems Called Clerihew

During one of the calls home during Hutchmoot I was told by my son that "I broke your hat on accident."  As odd as this proclamation may sound I knew it was true.  My hat was broken and he didn't mean to break it.  And for some reason it sounded odd but I was not surprised in the least.

I'm not sure how you break a hat, why he had my hat, how it was accidental, when he thought it was okay to need my hat, which hat (it wasn't my favorite one, Buttpaste is safe).  All of these mysteries would wait for another day.

My boy Caleb
without a mis-speak or a flub,
Informed me, he broke my hat.
I'm still unsure how he managed that.

At the mighty meeting I was asked if I was the Engineer Dan of clerihew fame.  I had been discovered, my identity revealed.  I was also once identified as "Mr. Incredible".  That identity is slightly less hidden as I wear the costume every Tuesday to work.  I receive strange looks but who wouldn't like a zip-on muscle suit. (I'm kidding, but I would like to wear it more often.)

Back to clerihews.  I like them.  4 line biography poem with the name in one of the first two lines and an odd form is acceptable or even encouraged.  They are short and threfore match my attention span.  They are an odd challenge in word play which I enjoy.

So with my clerihew hat revealed here's Hutchmoot in a few clerihew.  Not nearly a complete list and limited to the Moot speakers and some RR contributors (i.e. not other attendees).

Andrew Peterson
Surrounds himself with nerdy fun.
Where else would an introduction about "verbing" suit.
Except at a meeting called Hutchmoot.

Peterson, Pete
Organizing 'Moot is quite a feat;
He guided us better than Lance Corporal Guest
Who he sent alone on a train to Budapest.

I soaked up wise words from Jennifer Trafton
Her book holds strange lands, not with a setting sun.
Rather than stable earth that sits and does not budge
The rising, falling lands are explored by Persimmony Smudge.

Thomas McKenzie
Amidst the weekend storytelling frenzy,
Knows the secret to produce tears, happy or sad, enough to fill a cup.
Tell of gas station explosions or as Jill Phillips advised - Just Show UP!

Jonathan Rogers
Has a family full of police dodgers.
Shared of raccoon blood and pants-ing perfected.
With laughter we were all infected.

Randall Goodgame
(Wow! he has a fitting name)
For his recent albums, kids are his target ear.
I'm not sure he knows how much, to parents, he does endear.

And also there is Eric Peters
I love his music as my mind teeters.
Frustrating times, watching waters crash in
Yet pulled by grace out of our sin.

Sam - S.D. Smith
whom my Pitt battles with
I was amazed he used utensils at the dinner
being as he's from West Virginner

Andy Gullahorn
Sees music fame lacking and is forlorn.
For his shape he will not enhance
by wearing extra tight pants.

Keynote speaker - Sally Lloyd Jones
Her writing does rattle my bones.
"The Jesus Storybook Bible" brings tears when read to my young lot.
I shed them as Jesus and the Old Testament are woven and connected, dot to dot.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hutchmoot - the morning after.

I wrote all of this during some time in the car.  I'll have more later.
It's 7:30am Sunday. I've slept for possibly 1.5hrs. Becky's pulled about the same. We've driven thru the night returning from Hutchmoot and we still have 1.5 hrs to go. The rest of the day will consist of us trying to be functional zombies thru feeding our kids lunch, getting them to soccer, me trying to coach, supper and then the Steelers playing tonight. Right now the clouds are a lovely blue-gray with a crimson thread laced into the bottoms. It's been awhile since we say a sunrise together. We've been awake at the right time before just never side by side facing the correct direction.

What better time and condition to write some notes about a weekend that goes like a whirlwind also.

We stopped by McKays bookstore in Nashville before sneaking into the moot. That place is huge. I feel like we only skimmed the surface pieces of gold and gems in that massive treasure chest. I'm jealous but it's surely a good thing that such a store is not in my neighborhood; I'd be broke.

We got to Hutchmoot for session 3. We were in film with Thomas McKenzie and Chris Wall. My quick mental notes pouring out: some stories are best told as film, most (all) films are about redemption or the lack there of, “UP!” still makes me weep.

After lunch there was some time for small groups (6 ppl) with various RR staff who were available in ½ hour timeslots. I had some time with Thomas McKenzie and Matt Conner. I did this so that I could pick their brains on community in Grove City. My church is wonderfully supportive. My main burning passion right now is to draw any interest out of other churches or folks in the community. A few things I picked up from this – it is not my job or in my power to “wake up” other churches. Make the personal connections and then worry about the items. This was good.

Becky had been in a different small group and then we met up and snuck into the Justin Gerard small group. Justin is a superb illustrator. We just had free time and this had empty seats, just was such a wonderful conversation. He has fears. Voices that tell him he produces garbage and his work isn't good. He makes many things that end up in the trashcan as part of the building process. The idea that “I will draw this image, when I am better” - some illustrations need to wait.

After dinner (which was awesome) the keynote speaker was Sally Lloyd Jones. Sally is the author of the “Jesus Storybook Bible”. Other books too but this one was truly inspired and is truly a vessel holding something much more than human hands alone created. It tells the gospel in such a powerful way and the idea that “every story whispers his name” makes powerful connections. It is giving kids lessons that not only last a lifetime, they build for a lifetime.  These are lessons big kids need too.

Sally shared from many of her books. Her selection from the JSB was of “Daniel and the Scary Sleepover”. Last Sunday I was up for leading Children's Church at my congregation. After the Children's Sermon they get to go learn whatever lesson elsewhere. There wasn't much guidance on what to do so I took in the JSB we read this story, drew pictures and then read it again with some actions. The kids loved it, as did I.   I loved hearing it again too. Sally has a unique ability to write to a child and from a child's perspective.

Other take aways from Sally's address – value children; talk up to them, not down; simply told stories, not watered down; childlike not childish; don't ruin a good story by asking "okay, what does this mean?"; mystery is magic.

After Sally there was an oral storytime. It would be a disservice to try to retell the stories of others but I can state that this was fun. There was much laughter.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Moot Day 2

(this will be quick with minimal proofreading.)
I didn't have a day 1 post because it was a very nice meal and then a Square Pegs (and friends) private concert.  The concert was excellent.  Andy Gullahorn breaking out a new song "Skinny Jeans" was my personal highlight.  There is such a richness in all of the music, and each performer brought a different color to the canvas that made for a beautiful night.

Onto Friday.

Session 1 - Building a Co-Creative Community
Lead by Thomas MacKenzie and Matt Conner
I went into this with some faint hope of hearing a miracle solution of how to break thru the walls that are preventing Grove City churches from working together.  I didn't quite hear that.  It was more aimed at the creative person and telling them to step out, connect with someone.  You have permission to try to share your dream.  There was also a sentiment expressed of "live like you've already won the war".  Much of revolution is self serving - fighting a battle to get permission to hang art in the church for example.  Just show up with the art and ask "where do you want me to hang this?"

This was a refreshing reminder of the blessings of my VERY supportive church, a VERY supportive wife and some great recent community starts in Grove City.

Session 2 - Children's Literature
Lead by S.D. Smith (if that is his real name) and Jennifer Trafton
Despite being from WV, I enjoy Sam.  He brought a parents perspective to children's literature and the importance of story for growing into being "child-like" and not "childish".  Being able to reach back and enjoy rather than stuck and unable to reach up.  I think Chesterton nails this with his idea of gratitude. Roughly - if I can be grateful for stuffed Christmas stockings why can I not be grateful for legs to stuff my stockings every day.
Jennifer stole the show in relating children's literature from a writers perspective.  She had so much great insight.  Insight into not just writing for a moral or a point, writing for a story and character and the moral or symbolism might flow into the story but it isn't the story.  There is a rumor (she said it) her talk will be posted which will be well worth reading and enjoying again.  I am excited for any book she gets out there. 

Lunch was catered by Baja Burrito.  No wonder this place is so well loved.
For dinner Evie had some wonderful homemade bread, salad, and Italian Wedding soup.  I don't know who the Italian is who got married, but they sent over some yummy stuff.

The Jason Gray launch concert was great.  Jason has a stage vulnerability and humility that is charming and inviting.  The build-up to the powerful closing of "Thank You Jesus" was incredible.   A great show.  I can throw superlatives and comparisons at it and it still won't be adequate.  Powerful and moving.

One last thought - an epiphany thought.  Jason mentioned Genesis 3 and being cursed to toil the ground and work; there will be thistles and thorns.  A lightning bolt thought hit me to how God uses the very curse to crown Jesus.  There's MUCH more depth to that, I just had to write it down before it slipped away. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hutch 1! Hutch 2!

Hutchmoot is this weekend. What is a Hutchmoot? (click to read)
I made it to the first one last year, HM-MMX, and am even more excited for this year's convention.  I get to have my wife with me.  Last year was awesome. Food. Fellowship. Music. Stories. And as cool as that 1.5 days were, they paled to the growth & transformation out of it. (see here)

For this year, we missed the six hour window during ticket sales and ended up on the waiting list.  And we waited to the point of assuming we wouldn't get in.  Last Thursday we received an e-mail that spots had opened up and we could get in.  We talked & prayed and decided to take the plunge.

This is nerve racking for a few reasons.  My dad has graciously and wonderfully volunteered to burn some vacation time and watch our kids.  Can he handle a 3 y/o ninja?  It costs money.  Can we swing it?   It's a 10hr drive each way.  Will the car hold up?  Will the conversation hold up?  Will we be held up?

I woke up around 3:30 last night.  I saved my 7 y/o from a scary stuffed animal (she called it scary and I agree; it was truly intimidating, it kept looking at you) and then laid there for about 20 minutes.  No sleep met my eyes so I went downstairs and read.  I tried that sleeping thing again around 4:30.  It was like the mountain in the distance that never gets any closer; and it never got closer.  Crawl out of bed at 5:00 and start routine to head into work.

The entire time of being awake my mind kept stirring.  It was an odd mix of nervous anxiety for the trip and preparations, as well as anticipation for a full weekend of excitement.  Like the pressure of having to build all the kids toys the night before Christmas and still being excited for Christmas morning.  I'm trying to not pester Becky with my flitting between the two extremes; not sure it's working. 

I'm also trying to keep a limit on my expectations.  Last year I had high hopes and was blown away.  What are the chances it can repeat?  I'm trying not to ponder that, trying to just go and enjoy it.  Enjoy the spiritual feeding and a quality weekend Becky.

I'm pretty sure Wednesday night may require an extra toast to the end of the day (Straub) to help me sleep through the night.  To the Moot.

"We talk of art as something artificial in comparison with life.  But I sometimes fancy that the very highest art is more real than life itself.  At least this is true; that in proportion as passions become real they become poetical; the lover is always trying to be the poet." GK Chesterton

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Bridge Jumping

Stonebridge is on the outside of town (Mount Joy) on Pinkerton Road.  It was built in the 1880's and has withstood time better than most modern bridges.  The simple and lasting design has a spirit of integrity and thinking of the future.  A stone bridge.  It straddles a creek that isn't wide enough to skip stones across.  With some practice you can skip diagonal or down the length where it bend.  Even with a good angle you might get 5 skips before hitting the other side.

As a bored teenager in a small town somehow we developed a game we referred to as "bridge jumping".  Some evenings we would sit at the top of this high arch bridge and talk, sometimes smoking cigars, and solve all the worlds problems.  This was actually the setup to the game to talk until the first indications of a car was coming.  Then we would sprint away from the car down the arch until it was estimated to be a safe height to jump over the side to the ground.  The idea was to remain "unseen" even though our ride was generally 50 feet away on the side of the road. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

10 years ago I was working 3rd shift at USAirways.  3rd shift is weird.  I could come home and eat a bowl of spaghetti, enjoy steak & beer, or go for a bowl of cereal.  All seemed to fit because 3rd shift was so unnatural it made everything else natural.

I was asleep on the couch and Becky called to tell me an airplane crashed.  While plane crashes are tragic and rare, they happen.  As an "insider" we tended to watch them and follow them more closely.  Sleep to my weary eyes was a more pressing need than watching news about a plane crash.  And return to sleep I did.

She called back about 45minutes later and told me this looks more serious.  I watched the news all the rest of that day.  Numb is the best word to describe it.  You wanted answers: who? why? where? how many? Is any of my family in danger?

Those answers would be filled in over the next few weeks and months but the real ache of "why" could still be lingering today.  "Why" doesn't always get answered.

 Andrew Peterson wrote "The Silence of God" out of that tragedy.  It puts words to it better than I ever could.  It still stands as one of my favorite songs.

So here 10 years out it is a time to remember.  The world doesn't always make sense.  There is evil in the world.  Even tragedies have heroes.  The tragedies don't define heroes it just helps us to see them; and they tend to be the people who defy the tragedy to just do what they do.  Thanks to all police, firefighters, and military for doing what you do.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My New Favorite Passage

"This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage.  A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice." Orthodoxy, GK Chesterton

John 6:60-69.
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

I have a new favorite passage.  It may only be there for a few days (3 now), it may reside for the rest of my life.

 It has been awakening and refreshing to me for a few reasons.  This sticks in my head (along with the rich young ruler) as a time when the hard teaching presses followers (or potential followers) to the wall and some walk away.  Then Peter's response rattled my bones.

First, Jesus's teachings are not always easy.  The more you look at them the harder they are.  That's refreshing at a time when so much seems to get fluffed up and sugar coated to be consumable.  All the while losing substance and leaving you empty.  From the world, it is generally assumed and taught that Jesus was a pacifist and sought some middle road to make everyone happy.  He was a candyman handing out happy treats to  followers and churches should do the same.  Lie.  He told his followers to be ready to bear a cross.  1.A is that I shouldn't expect to be able to offer the truth as a message of ease and comfort.  This is more a point of conviction rather than rejoicing for me; I'm not seeking to upset people and generally keep my mouth shut rather than stir up people I don't know.  Truth in love may (and will) mean teaching hard things.

Second, people stopped following and went away.  This was a dividing line teaching (Jesus came as a sword, Matt 10).  If the faith of the followers was a logical ascent to something higher, or chasing a candyman they went home at this point. If my faith is only worth following when it makes sense or when it makes my belly happy I'm in trouble.  It isn't faith at all it is a convenient rewards program.

Third, I love Peter's answer to the question of "You do not want to leave too, do you?"  It wasn't a matter of wanting to leave, he answers - where am I to go?  You hold life.   Not completely unrelated to the point above, I may not always understand the truth but I can trust and know that the source is the the source of life and the only source of life.  There may be points during a confusing time when the desire is low, but that doesn't change Jesus being the source.  It actually reinforces the need for drinking straight from the source.  "We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God".

Fourth, is that all of the other teachings may be mental ascents or candyman chasing as well, there will reach a point where you have to chose to go home or press on.  The only reason to press on is if it is known and trusted as a life giving source.  When the path gets tough; or the formula or rituals crumble under the weight of the world; are you left saying "huh, I guess I'll go home" or at a point of belief and knowing "I can go back to a house but it is empty, I need to stay by the side of Jesus for that's where my life is found".

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tell me the story...again

"In painting and music we are inferior to many other nations; but in literature, science, philosophy, and political eloquence, if history be taken as a whole, we can hold our own with any.  But all this vast heritage of intellectual glory is kept from our schoolboys like a heresy; and they are left to live and die, in the dull and infantile type of patriotism which they learn from a box of tin soldiers." - GK Chesterton

In school, I hated history.  It was boring memorization of dates and names; and never the story of the people involved.  It was left as small-talk "hi", instead of interesting "story".

2/3 of my kids start off to school today.  They may be too young to delve too deeply into history but when it does occur I hope their teachers are storytellers and not small talkers.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review - "The Chosen" by Chaim Potok

I recently finished "The Chosen" by Chaim Potok.  "My Name is Asher Lev" (same author) was recommended as a good read (I still haven't read it).  "The Chosen" was at halfpricebooks so I took a shot.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I don't like this story...

Sometimes parenting is just fun. 

At times I like to hand kids an imagination football and see how far they run with it.  I hand the tape measure to my 3 y/o and watch her go.  The 6 and 7 y/o like to see if the world measures up.  With no surprise, it generally doesn't.  They learned that lesson faster than me.

Most of us growing up had the game where the ground is "lava" and you move around the room on furniture and pillows.  Using sticks as swords and guns is fairly common play.  Pine cones make great hand grenades; and a paper towel roll is good for days of adventure.  It is like the Swiss army knife of imagination world.

Imaginary play with things can be great enjoyment.

Then there is the times where your imagination plays with you.

I can distinctly recall being 5-6ish and we had a friend's mannequin in our dining room for a few months.  Didn't everybody?  Our only bathroom was upstairs with the bedrooms.  At night I had to sprint by this item of terror for any bathroom visit and the eventual bedtime.  Looking back, it was as normal as can be for a mannequin in a dining room.  At 5, it scared me.  It also scared me on many levels.  As terrifying as the figure was that could spring to life at any moment; there was also the fear riding the back of built up anticipation.  Looming fear.  I knew that cold, hideous beast was there, and it wanted to eat me.

I'm sure my parents may have thought my sprints were just child energy getting burned off, or another round of imaginary games.  For me it was a battle of life and death.  My spindly legs had to carry me; quick as lightning past this demon.  It had them fooled by not moving, but I knew it was just waiting to get me.

By our rules Caleb, now 6, has the overhead light on for a few minutes and then is reduced to the light on the nightstand; it is still plenty strong to read by.  For a few months from his room we heard various quickened footsteps, leaps and mad scrambles.  Then one day he explained that after the big light is out he has 8 seconds to be off of his bed to get more books or get that last drink of water.  If he's more than 8 seconds, then "things" will get him.

I know what he's going through and I laugh.  Not at him or childish games; I know the severity of this battle.  I laugh at the common thread that binds us, that thought amuses me. 

For now, he will run fast and sleep hard.  He has another battle tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Vacating the Vacation

We returned from a vacation around midnight last night.  My super wife took the last driving leg so I could sleep and have some semblance of functioning today.  If only work had cooperated.

I'm starting to see a trend from any vacation return.

Comfort. You get back home and there is true comfort in sleeping in your own bed.  Your head hitting your own pillow is a good thing.

Fear.  The alarm clock is a cruel torture device to remind you that responsibilities are creeping in.  The trip is over, back to the routine.

Perseverance.  You manage to get to the point where you face the responsibility head on.  It could be a stuffed inbox of e-mail, a mountain of laundry,  a fridge that needs to be restocked, or a cat that needs to be kicked (done.). 

False hope.  Attempting this return to the routine without a bonus coffee is not advised.  Make a full pot and enjoy.  Repeat as needed.  It'll help you feel on the ball.  Once you've climbed the mountain and think you're back to the regular life something hits you.

Reality.  I've also learned that my return to work is usually met by a severe oversight in something I planned.  I scrambled to get a project to a good stopping point before the absence.  In my scrambling I sometimes overlook obvious details.  It is kind of like a diabolical scheme to set fire to the sun;  there's a severe flaw in such a scheme.

Back in the rut.  I'm now back to feeling like I need a vacation.  Just some time away from this current overlooked detail that will result in meetings and a few more days of feeling like a fish trying to swim up Niagara Falls.

In another day or two this debacle will pass and another will rise to take it's place.  I actually don't mind them, it is what I do.  It was just nice to have some time away with my family.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Now Playing

I haven't posted for a little bit so here's a filler piece.

On my background music at work I have a playlist called "Hearstrings".  It is my quick and incomplete collection of songs that just really touch me.  Happy, sentimental and semi-mental, contemplative, mournful.  It covers a pretty broad range.  I put it together one day about 8 months ago and haven't modified it since.  Although I probably should.

It is incomplete in that I need to get more of my music here to work for listening.  Step 2 is that I need to get it onto the list.  I'd have a tough time picking a top 5 or a top 10, so here's my top 15.

In no particular order (Song Title - Album - Artist):
I Will Find a Way - Christmas - Jill Phillips & Andy Gullahorn
Beautiful Girl - Slugs, & Bugs & Lullabies - Andrew Peterson & Randall Goodgame
In the Night My Hope Lives On - Counting Stars - AP
You Came So Close - Counting Stars - AP
Lay Me Down - The Far Country - AP
More - The Far Country - AP
Family Man - Love and Thunder - AP
The Silence of God - Love and Thunder - AP
After the Last Tear Falls - Love and Thunder - AP
I've Got News - Resurection Letters Vol 2 - AP
The Hammer Holds - Ten Thousand Days - Bebo Norman
Rita - Ten Thousand Days - Bebo Norman
The Secret - Room to Breathe - Andy Gullahorn
Burning Bushes - Room to Breathe - Andy Gullahorn
Tools - Love and Thunder - AP

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Bird in the Hand...

I saw this today.

it makes me laugh and cry at the same time.  mmmm....paradox.

An 11 year old saves a woodpecker from being eaten by the family cat.  They take it to Lowe's while buying a cage to nurse it and get stopped by a Fish & Wildlife officer in the store.  The officer tells them it is endangered and transporting it is illegal.

They take it home and release.  Then a few days get fined for transporting an endangered species.

Moral of the story: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.  With the exchange rate a bush is $250 dollars.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Play time - A Review of Magic by GK Chesterton

For the text of the play look here:
Project Gutenberg Link to Magic

I make no claims to have read many plays.  The required amount in highschool plus a few, they are not regularly put on my reading list.  I am a Chesterton fan and fairly familiar with his writing style and thinking; both of which I enjoy.

I downloaded this to test our Nook we received for Christmas. I merely knew it was a play written by GKC. I wanted to see readability, page turning and general format with a secondary goal of getting through another GKC item.  I was awake until somewhere near 3am finishing this story.  It is compelling and lingers long after reading.

This is GKC's first foray into being a playwright.  He had a close friendship with George Bernard Shaw despite being very far apart in philosophy/theology.  Shaw prodded GKC into penning the play.  I haven't read/seen enough Shaw to say it was clearly against the thinking of blah-blah or counter to the contemporary writings of the time.  I can say I greatly enjoyed it.

GKC pours humor and dark themes into this tale.  I chuckled at the banter back and forth and just couldn't put the book down.  He also sharply takes shots at the philosophies of his time.  He does so in much of his other writings but this is a neat and concise shooting down of characters holding to each.

A dinner party seems to have been planned with a conjurer for entertainment.  The party guests end up seeing a challenge to what they believe rather than sleight of hand parlor tricks.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Signs of the Times

I'm generally content in my own little world and don't lash out with criticism at things.  It usually strikes me as being smug (prideful), and not productive.  I see stupidity everyday and it often produces a chuckle.  Sometimes a sadness that someone didn't see the errors.

I'm taking exception to my general principal today.  Mostly because stupidity on signs is advertising stupidity.  Not that you have a bad product, but there should be more care in putting out a quality message.  Unless you're a mattress salesman.

Today I'm going to laugh at peoples mistakes.  2 items specifically.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Movie time - Kung Fu Panda 2 (and Dreamworks)

I see this going two topical directions; a review of KFP2 and how Dreamworks is different from Pixar.

First the original Kung Fu Panda.  My kids beat me up for a few ours after first seeing KFP.  It was fun and a nice story despite the bruises that followed.  Excellent animation and voice acting as you would expect anymore.

KFP2 kept the same pace.  Story, animation and delivery.  I think sequels can be either a continuation in the timeline (Hobbit & LOTR) or another chapter in the lives of the characters (Rocky 1-5).  KFP2 was another story in the lives of the characters.  Po is now the dragon warrior and is still studying and growing in Kung Fu.  I think it did well for making drawing me in and caring about Po.  It touches on themes of destiny and choices, and the meaning of family.

Onto Pixar vs. Dreamworks
In doing quick research for this blog I found some interesting comparisons between Pixar & Dreamworks

Pixar - Lucasfilm, Steve Jobs, Disney (after '06)
Dreamworks (animation) - Spielberg, Paul Allen (Microsoft co-founder, investor), Paramount

I think Pixar tends to work harder for the art of the story-movie.  Well set situations, compelling characters and good stories.  I would go so far as saying they work at and enjoy the art of storytelling.  At the end you're happy but pondering, or motivated, or perplexed; generally moved.  You go play with your childhood toys again (Toy Story).  You value your friends more than glory (Cars).  You value relationships (Up!).  You dig in the garden and like it (Wall-E). You try a new recipe (Ratatouille).  You fight for your family even if your scared (and scarred) from bad outcomes (Finding Nemo)

Dreamworks is all about the movie.  They found a niche and are running with it.  They have churned out sequels (Shrek, Madagascar, KFP2, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Madagascar 3 on the way) and will probably continue to do so.  They tend to make a fun movie to watch with your kids, some jokes aimed at the adults, good animation, and good acting.  At the end you're happy and come out to resume your life, having had a 98 minute break.  You laugh at Shrek, Po, bees, Bob and 50-ft Susan,.

Both studios are good with what they do; and I'm glad.  I seek more and find more from Pixar.  I will still go and see both, and enjoy both.  One seems to stay with me longer because I'm getting old and sappy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More PC-USA stuff

I attended a Shenango Presbytery meeting last night on the denominational issues.  It had a large turnout (175-ish) and I haven't seen that large of a cross-church gathering that fired up in a long time.  It felt like a church softball game.

Everyone was about on the same side.  There was a general wondering of "how did we get here?" and "is this what the denomination is focused on?" "What about Jesus?".  I wonder the same thing but on more than the issue of ordaining those who will not submit to "faithfulness and marriage and chastity in singleness" (old language now removed).  Also, and just as stomach churning for me, is how did we get so tied to "social justice"?

Social Justice is a vague term to cover many errors.  On the surface who would be opposed to social justice.  A just society is essential and a good thing.  But when social justice is used to support social programs and political ideologies everyone loses.  Social Justice becomes a joke and those truly suffering from injustice are ignored.  It seems like giving them padding for the shackles instead of removing the shackles.  We can feel better about ourselves, have a nice padded program, pad a pad company profits, and leave those suffering exactly where they are so we can find them and "help" them tomorrow.  Social Justice is about the programs and not about stopping the injustice.

The meeting last night was refreshing in that people are getting involved, aware, and passionate about their churches.  It may lead to the PC-USA having fewer congregations.  It may lead to some changes in the PC-USA.  I don't know if much will change for the denomination though.  And truly it seems like it isn't much of a hop for churches to switch to another Presby denomination.  All should be considered prayerfully.  Hopefully it drives everyone to their knees.

'The Church is not a thing like the Athenaeum Club,' he cried.  'If the Athenaeum Club lost all its members, the Athenaeum Club would dissolve and cease to exist.  But when we belong to the Church we belong to something which is outside all of us:  which is outside everything you talk about, outside the Cardinals and the Pope.  They belong to it, but it does not belong to them.  If we all fell dead suddenly, the Church would still somehow exist in God.'
The Ball and the Cross - GK Chesterton

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cars 2 - a speedy review

I took the movie going wee ones to see Cars 2 on Sunday.  I didn't like it that much.

I love Pixar and the work they do.  They have a history of making movies that are fun to watch.  Fun for the adults and the kids.  It isn't just neat animation, but even more they tell great stories.  They draw you in and don't let you go until they are ready.  And that's fine by me.

Lifted  an example of Pixar doing what it does.

Toy Story -   It is the landmark movie that did more than put Pixar on the Hollywood map; it redefined (rediscovered?) what movies are about. Big gamble, big payday.  Would people accept computer animation instead of classic cels?  Yes.  Because a good story is worth watching.  Not really the founder of the genre, the genre existed but was lost under "The Land Before Time 23 - Because Kids like Dinosaurs and we don't have any original ideas".  I'm glad Pixar re-found quality animated movies. The first one was excellent and unlike usual sequel attempts they kept getting better.

Up! - The first 10 minutes had me sitting there babbling in the theater with my kids wondering what was wrong.  Why is dad crying? Because I now know why the old man is grumpy.

Wall-E - makes me want to go out and do something; it touches my inner spirit of activity.  That or I just sat through a 2 hour movie and need to stretch my legs - either way I'm getting up and marching straight outside to enjoy a beer while sitting on the porch.   Somehow Pixar pulls off a Johnny-5 clone being a believable character that you care about.

Cars was very good for the same reason.  It was a great story which very effectively laid out some tough human feelings (identity - who am I really?) on vehicles.  There was no huge, scary bad guy.  Plenty of layered jokes for kids and adults. 

Cars 2 is not the original Cars.

Cars 2 kept with the jokes and good animation but lost something.  It came off as an easy sequel to me; which isn't what Pixar does.  It was not story driven, it was the Mater show.  There were a few subtle James Bond, name puns, and lemon car jokes; but there wasn't a compelling story.  It felt like a Disney sequel and not a Pixar movie.  A friend told me he enjoyed it because now it had action.  I felt like it had action and jokes but no story.

Pixar had done well for a long time under the Disney umbrella of not cutting the corners.  Pixar wasn't about following formula for box office success, it was about making movies worth making and worth watching.  They took pride in their art and every one of their films was a homerun, until Cars 2.

The movie was okay, just not the usual level of Pixar quality.  I hope it is merely a stumble and not a harbinger of Pixar being absorbed into the Disney machine.  Toy Story 2 and 3 did away with my scepticism that it would just be a mediocre sequel.  It is easy to recycle characters & jokes just for more tickets.  Pixar kept the bar high and each installation was compelling storytelling.  I was expecting the same from Cars 2 and left unimpressed.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Art is the Signature of Man

It is the simple truth that man does differ from the brutes in kind and not in degree; and the proof of it is here; that it sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a picture of a man. Something of division and disproportion has appeared; and it is unique. Art is the signature of man.  -GK Chesterton

Monday, July 4, 2011

On PC-USA Denomination Issues

Our church (local) is wrestling with recent changes by the large PC-USA denomination.  This letter was drafted to let the congregation know where the session and presbytery was standing. -Dan

On PC-USA Denomination Issues

Center Church is at a cross roads in its long and rich history. Culture changes with the times, and our current culture has forced a debate upon our congregation that some wonder why there is a debate at all.

Center Presbyterian Church is a congregation within the Shenango Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church USA. PC-USA had a proposed amendment before the 2010 General Assembly referred to as -10A. This amendment was for a change in the Book of Order regarding officers of the church. Previously the Book of Order read for office standard as:

"Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament."

"Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

In other words, it is now up to each Presbytery and congregation to determine the standards for the Officers of the church. The long standing requirements of the denomination can now be changed by each church. They may determine that the Biblical standard is less important than style or yield to a desire to reach out to the culture. This being a local option Center Church is not required to lower our standard, and will continue to hold to the traditional Book of Order regarding the offices of the church.

The votes are still being tallied (amendments are voted upon for one year and closes July 10) but the amendment already has a sufficient number that it will pass. There is nothing to be done regarding it passing. The Book of Order will be changed and some Presbyteries and congregations may start ordaining avowed, unrepentant, practicing gay officers.

The Shenango Presbytery has taken a firm stand against -10A. They are drafting a response and a document clarifying the options for the congregations. The passing of -10A marks a decision point for each congregation. There are some churches that will stay and fight. These churches will seek to form a united block and still remain under the PC-USA structure. Some are seeking other Reformed Denominational bodies that hold to a scriptural understanding at every level.

Session is awaiting this document and will prayerfully discuss and weigh the options for Center Church. Things may move slowly in this process but the process is moving and our Session, in representing our congregation, seeks to stand firmly upon the Holy Scripture.

The Gospel is good news to be shared with every end of the creation. We are to reach out to culture with love and grace, for without the love and grace of Jesus we are lost. We must also be sure that in reaching out we do not lose our firm foundation on the rock of our salvation.

If you have any questions or concerns, or would like to discuss this further please feel free to speak with any Elder or Pastor Woodman.

Please keep Center Church, the Shenango Presbytery, and the Presbyterian Church USA in your prayers.

-Center Church Session

2 Timothy 4

 1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

 6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Recommended Additional Resources:

Presbyterians For Renewal

Shenango Presbytery
(specifically look for the button labeled "Special Committee to Monitor Denominational Issues")

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Presidential Platform

I recently celebrated my 35th birthday.  This is a milestone.  While 16, 18, and 21 were probably larger markers of usable life moments; I am now eligible to be a US senator or President.

Please hold your applause until the end.

I feel it is now time to announce my presidential platform.  I have thoroughly pondered this for 2 minutes and will stand by the following.

1.  Restore the arts. 
Whining into a microphone is not art.  Throwing up on canvas is not art.  Randomly throwing paint on a canvas is not art.  I will deport Justin Bieber and incarcerate Lady Gaga.  I'm pretty sure they are both guilty of crimes against music.  If my 7 year old can do it, it isn't art that a 25 year old should be paid for.

2,  People have the right to be stupid. 
No matter how many seatbelt rules, fines & laws you make people will still ride unbuckled.  The soon coming pictures of black lungs on cigarettes will not make suddenly make people realize smoking is bad - they already knew it.  They don't care, they will still smoke.  Sometimes I want to eat the french-fries covered in cheese and bacon; leave me alone.  The stupidity of the individual will always exceed the laws of the clever ruler until the day when the laws get stupid and criminals get clever.

3.  Your stupidity is not automatically someone else's problem.
 If someone helps you they are kind and gracious and loving; you are not entitled to them helping you, paying you, or giving you something.  Say thank you.

4.  Companies being stupid should have consequences.
Being too big to fail probably means you are too big to bail out.  Capitalism doesn't fail when there are too many capitalists, but too few. GKC-ish.  If stupidity is going to wreck people to the level that they crash, companies have to feel consequences too.  CEO bonuses for bankrupting a company is wrong.

5.  The Earth is bigger than you. 
To think that driving a Prius is going to save the environment and a Suburban will kill it is ridiculous.  If it saves you money and fits your life - fine.  I haven't seen a prius hauling a camper yet though; and if it ever hits the fan and society is crazy for a few months; I'll be hanging with the camper crowd rather than the city greenies.  A volcanic burp has more impact than 100 of your cars will over 100 years.  If you want to re-use grocery bags, good for you.  In general, clean up after yourself.

6.  Let your kids be kids.
5 year olds in beauty pageants is crazy.  Kids should play in the dirt, pick up worms, and fly kites.  Don't over schedule them in music, dance, acting, singing, hockey, basketball, baseball, gymnastics, soccer, football and lacrosse.  An 8 y/o doing 3hrs of homework every day is excessive.

7.  Raise your kids to get out and be grownups.
Your kids should get educated and get out of your house.  Turn off the TV sometimes and read a book.  TV is okay, but it is awesome to turn off.  Turn off the video games and go outside.  Play some games.  Let kids learn how to play, argue, work through, and settle disputes so they aren't a bunch of whiny slackers who can't talk to people.  Life isn't always easy.  If you don't like what's for dinner now, you probably won't like it as breakfast tomorrow either.  A 16 y/o doing 1hr of homework a day isn't too much to ask.  Work, the reward of a paycheck, and a job well done are good things.

I humbly present these as planks in my platform.  My policy decisions will be guided by these principles.

Thank you.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day

Just a quick post.  I like Father's Day.  Not because it is a day focussed on me; but because it gives me a refreshing reminder that I have a heavenly father.  I will screw up as a person and as a father.  I'm glad there is heavenly father who will truly never let us down.  Plus I can shamelessly plug Andrew Peterson with a great song and a great video.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

An Unexpected Dinner Guest

Every year the local collection of the United Methodist Church congregations meets at GC College.  We get an annual visit from our former pastor, Gary Bailey.  I don't want to call him our old pastor although he is showing some gray,  I'd rather call him an old friend.

At our former house (now 5 years ago) we drove past about 5 churches, out of town and past another 2 churches to attend Brush Run UMC.  "The friendly church by the side of the road".  Every sunday they have a stand and greet time.  From what I've seen at most churches these are a time to stand spin 360-degrees and shake hands with anyone your arm can reach.  You may also be permitted 2 steps.  At Brush Run this is more of a sport.  Nearly everyone leaves their pews and crowds the aisles with hugs, conversation, and laughter.  If goes generally 5-15 minutes; if not halted it would go all day.

Our first sunday there we met probably all of the 80ish ppl in attendance and most of them knew our names when we returned next week.  I think it was our second sunday attending that we were invited to the hot dog shop for breakfast.  We quickly made friends in the church.  You couldn't help it.  Brush Run is also unique in that your friendships are not limited to your age range, or career or role within the church.  It is a sticky friendship like family.  You find yourself talking to these folks and liking them.

So last night was the Annual Conference which had allowed us for the almost surprise visit from Gary.  At Brush Run our family immediately connected with the Bailey family.  There was nearly some age overlap but there was more a love of games, laughter, and learning that bound our families.

Coming out of such a comfortable and welcoming spiritual family made adjusting to churches in GC tough.  Unfortunately not all are welcoming.  GC is a town with deep roots and it makes it hard for implants to find soil.  Some were programmed to welcome (delegated greeters) which always comes across as insincere; and it is.  Some were cold since people were fairly occupied within their own circles.  I cannot blame them, I can just feel left out.  It took some time for us to lower our expectations and we settled where we had some friends through a play group with other kids & mothers.

Last night was our annual dinner.  It was good to catch up, reflect back and remember that there are somethings that the current denominational battles over litigation and polity will not tarnish.  That every church is local.  In some way, a very real and significant way, the parts are greater than the whole.

In our friends the richness of life is proved to us by what we have gained; in the faces in the street the richness of life is proved to us by the hint of what we have lost.  And this feeling for strange faces and strange lives, when it is felt keenly by a young man, almost always expresses itself in a desire after a kind of vagabond beneficence, a desire to go through the world scattering goodness like a capricious god.  It is desired that mankind should hunt in vain for its best friend as it would hunt for a criminal; that he should be an anonymous Saviour, an unrecorded Christ.  -GK Chesterton

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Bummer of a day

I've been a bummer to my family lately.  I'm not sure it will change today.  (This blog is a downer today, stop reading if you're looking for a ray of sunshine.  Read one of my other posts for the regularly sunny with a hint of sarcasm disposition)

The borough dropped the ball on the disc golf course which had me fuming for about a week.  As long as I don't start pondering it I am fairly calm about it now.  The past 2 days I've been slightly back to being plugged back in.  Not that I was sulking, I was just pretty oblivious to the rest of life.  And I'm sure it will all work out; not a life changing moment just VERY frustrating.  I was overdue to enjoy my kids again.

Today there was an article in my hometown paper that has stirred me on a deeper level.  My brother is nearly 3 years older than me but was only 2 years ahead in school.  For a time he dated a girl who was the school year in between us.  She always had a mindset of it being forever and talked more than most about the future & how rosy it would all be; the two of them forever.

Well they split and re-dated and then split for good as many highschool romances go.  Somehow in there I became decent friends with her.  She never let the candle die out for my brother.  At occasional run-ins she still would get a look when talking about how people were doing and how my brother was doing.  Creepy in a stalker way.

She went through many life changes and seemed to have pulled together some sense of faith and family.  Married and had 2 boys.  Then an article hits the paper about that she drowned the two boys in the bathtub.  Tragic. That was about 6 years ago.  She went to court and was found to be not-guilty due to insanity.  She was hearing voices telling her strange things.  Then a very short-time later a judge determined there was no precedent to keep her & they released her.

The article today was that they found her body in a crashed van in a canyon in Arizona.  Tragic again.  She had many demons.  They haunted her & tricked her into thinking that this world was too dangerous for her kids.  I'm guessing that the worst thing that could be done was to turn her away from treatment into a world where she was already tagged and known.  I'm guessing she heard voices, real and in her head.  It would be tough to get a job or make friends with that kind of history.  I had not seen her for about 10 years but today I am sad for her and her family.

I hate this fallen sinful world where kids die.  Whether it be cancer, car accidents or mental illness.  I'm sad that the repercussions couldn't have stopped.  I'm sad that a very confused and lonely girl saw no way out.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

You can't fight city hall - It's tough to work with them too

If you didn't know, I'm working with 2 other folks to get a disc golf course in the park in Grove City.  This has been a rough ride for me.  When I'm ready to get frustrated and give up, things move (eventually).  When I feel like things are finally happening, we hit some snag.  We seemed to have the greenlight and were waiting for the installation only to find out we had been in a snag for 6 weeks.

It has been nearly 2 years since the original proposal.  We had nearly a year of fund raising to secure sponsors for 9 holes.  Thank you to any and all sponsors. 

You'd think that we could get 9 installed and start playing.  I'm mad right now because we've been working to get this installed and have hit MANY snags.  All with the borough council, and 90% of those are because they will not call us.  None of us are hiding.  We all have e-mail, phones and have readily given that information.  We've even seen them in the interim and they won't mention "oh by the way did you know we have you on hold".  Mad may not even be the word for it.  I truly thought the fundraising would be the hardest part of this whole process. 
The trouble right now getting any straight information out of the borough council.  We've had people tell us one thing in person and read where it is a different case before the council.  We were approved and are now un-approved.

The more I dig into the borough council minutes I see where we have answered every problem and are now still waiting because they were supposed to get back to us and did not. 

I'm hopeful (no longer "sure" of any of this) that this can be worked out and we can have a course installed sometime; maybe this year.  We are going to miss having anything in place for the major town festival (Strawberry Days June 9-11) which would have been a great introduction for the community.  The whole town will be there walking around the course.  Allowing us to put our sign in place would have been great.  We sit.  We wait.

On June 20th I will go before the Borough Council another time.  We will field questions and ask if we can install the 1/2 course and bring an end to this error filled chapter.  They will say "yes" without an official motion because it was approved before.  Which technically means we should have been able to install it before except we couldn't because there were concerns they never asked us about.  Clear?

All of this has made me hate politics even more.  My frustration with the national level game has sunk down to hit the small town too.  The course is being held up on accusations of closed door hidden meetings and having no authority, and delayed on needing every tiny detail approved by a committee of people who don't care. 
"A camel is a racehorse designed by a committee"

We were approved pending a walk around with the people who had specific concerns.  We had the walk around and they were pleased at the time.  Then they tell the council they weren't.  After the walk around we started taking the steps for the full installation assuming they meant we could go ahead when they said "that looks great".   Now the whole council is reviewing everything again.  We sit.  We wait.

"I'm drowning in a sea of despair and monkeys dressed as lifeguards are throwing me anchors." - Dilbert